Student Profile: Senior Applied Engineering Major Patrick Baker and Associate Professor Yanhai Du, Ph.D.
What do you research?
Baker: I've been with Dr. Du since September of 2019. The SURE program gave me an opportunity to explore the research topics we discussed during the school year with a lot more time. Since I don't have classes during the summer, I'm able to explore additive manufacturing and 3D printing in more depth than I would've during the semester. More specifically, my research has been in additive manufacturing and design-based research for Dr. Du. The specific topic has been research into the additive manufacturing of ceramic fuel cell components. This summer has given me great insight about additive manufacturing.
Dr. Du: Additive manufacturing is another term for 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is a research direction that I've been taking on for several years. Kent State received a 3D metal printer about three years ago. The most common 3D printer is plastic. A metal printer has only been available to the commercial industry not long ago. The ceramic side of 3D laser printing is more in the early research stage; there aren't commercially available 3D printers for ceramics. A lot of people use 3D printers and just make a shape. In terms of ceramics and metals, only making the shape is not enough. You have to fire them and sinter them together. With the laser-sintering process, we're able to combine both the shaping and the firing in one step.
How did you decide this was something you were interested in?
Dr. Du: Every year, MIT selects the top ten technologies. In 2018, they put metal 3D printing on the top of the ten cutting-age technologies. I started getting involved with 3D printing 15 years ago when I was working at Nano Dynamics. I had a 3D printer made by ZCorp, a MIT spinoff company. At that time there was no ceramic materials available for this type of 3D printers. After joining Kent State, I wanted to continue the development of my patented special fuel cell design which must be 3D printed. Since Kent State did not have a metal or ceramic printer, I started writing proposals for such a printer. After three attempts in three years, we received the grant for the half a million-dollar high quality 3D metal laser sintering printer (EOS M100). Additive manufacturing has now become a new area of our research and student education.
Baker: I've been interested in design work for a long time and a big part of design work is making sure that the object can actually be fabricated. What's really cool about additive manufacturing is that it allows you to create designs that you wouldn't be able to create in any other type of manufacturing environment. With direct metal-laser centering, like Kent State's printer as Dr. Du mentioned, you can create complex geometries and features that wouldn't be possible to create in a typical manufacturing setting. You can create new objects. I think that's really where the interest is for me.
What do you feel are the characteristics of a strong mentor and mentee relationship?
Baker: Working with Dr. Du, I receive that design freedom where he has specific tasks he wants me to work on but then I create the objects and ask him if he'd like me to look further into it. It's been a really good experience; the SURE program has helped with that and given me time to spend the summer learning about research.
Dr. Du: The SURE program shares the idea that students and faculty both benefit from research. Every time I talk with a student, I ask what they'd like to do with their future so we can identify the best combination to allow them to do work and research. I know that Patrick is very passionate about 3D printing work and he started with the research group last year. He's invested a lot of time in this area. To receive an opportunity with the SURE program you have to be ready for the opportunity. I really appreciate that Patrick has forward-thinking and good attitude.
How has this experience affected your overall time at Kent State? What would you tell someone, such as a freshman, who's interested in research?
Baker: Like Dr. Du said-- opportunities are going to come, but you really must prepare for those opportunities and it's not up to the professor or anyone but yourself to not only create your own opportunities but prepare for them. I could wait around for something to come my way and then take the opportunity but if you're proactive with the approach and you're constantly working to try to improve your knowledge, you're much more prepared. Get out of the routine of just going to classes because there's other things you can be doing-- there's things you learn in the classroom that you can take a deeper look into. Make the connections and be proactive with your approach to finding opportunities.